I really struggle with unforeseen, “out-of-nowhere” conflicts. In any given fight-or-flight scenario, I totally flee. I’d rather run away from the situation and assess it long after the fact than act in the moment. Face it head-on. This includes out-of-nowhere discussions on sexuality — among family, no less.

Some time ago, I attended a family function. Grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and the like. My story had been public for a while, starting with my book of “messy memoirs” that I published in 2013.

Over the years, I’ve communicated with various extended family members about my sexuality, usually over email or Facebook or written letter, and the dialogue has always been supportive and nurturing.

I truly have a phenomenal family.

But I don’t naturally bring up my sexuality in conversations with my family. Or most anyone outside this online community, really. Just because I’m “out” doesn’t mean I’m always going out of my way to talk about sexuality. Outside my closest friendships, I still don’t feel comfortable sharing.

I still feel ashamed of my sexuality. Even after all this time. All these stories, written or otherwise.

For a while now, I’ve sensed that certain family members just aren’t aware of my sexuality, my story.

They’re not on Facebook. They don’t read blogs. They haven’t even read my book yet. They don’t know that their darling little Tom is gay. Or SSA. Or what have you.

At this particular family function, an aunt started talking about gay and transgender people. How we got there, I have no earthly idea. Sitting opposite the table and her diatribes, I felt like I was suddenly thrust into an SNL skit.

I thought these kinds of conversations only existed in nightmarishly comedic fantasy worlds. Not here. Not within my own family.

“How can a teenager possibly know what gender they are?” she said.

“I don’t think anyone is born gay,” she continued. One bold claim after the other. Her tone escalating.

I looked down the whole time. I played with my shirt. Ooh, creases. Creases are cool. Let me bore a hole into my sleeve while my one family member goes on and on about sexuality and gender identity. And then a pause.

And then a comment from another family member who has read my book and knows my story: “What do you think, Tom?”

I’ve never felt more on the spot in all my life. Here I was, presented with the perfect opportunity to tell someone she had no idea what she was talking about. That she had clearly never talked to a gay or transgender person and asked for their story in all her life.

Here I was — here with my story.

“I think . . . it’s complicated,” I said. “Some combination of nature and nurture.”

And that was essentially it. All I could muster on the spot like that. I felt so unprepared. So ill-equipped.

I didn’t even tell her that I myself was gay. Even though everyone else around the table, save her and maybe one or two others, already knew.

I know what I believe. I know so many stories, my own included. And yet I felt utterly unable to explain myself — and my dear brothers — to this person, my own family, without barreling into a tunnel of shame over the whole thing. Wishing I could just be straight and simple like all of them.

Ugh. It was rough. I still have so many regrets from that day.

I felt — still feel — like a failure. Like I failed this YOB community that day. Failed the LGBT+ community. Failed to educate. Failed to represent the love of Christ who welcomed the leper and prostitute.

And yet. I can’t help also feeling better prepared for a future conversation, family or otherwise, should the scenario ever arise.

If I could do it all over again, I’d say something like this to my one family member and anyone else listening:

So, I don’t know if you know this from reading my blogs or books or other writings. But I’m actually gay. I’ve been attracted to guys since first or second grade. I certainly didn’t choose my sexuality. It just happened this way. I don’t think anyone would choose this sexuality if given the alternative to be straight and otherwise ‘normal.’ We do, however, each have a choice deciding what to do with our sexualities, our proclivities, our temptations and desires, good or otherwise. So, even though I’m attracted to the same sex, I feel God calling me not to pursue a same-sex relationship in pursuit of him all the more.

I don’t know if I’ll ever again get that opportunity to say that to her. I have recently thought about emailing her. Saying something. I still feel burdened not saying anything substantial that day.

I don’t know if family functions will ever not be weird should the conversation ever again turn to gay people as innocent little Tom who will surely find the perfect woman one day admits to being totally attracted to dudes.

But even in my flights from conflict, I’m learning better how to fight. Fighting with story, fighting with love. Fighting only to be known as I shed more light on myself as well as my other brothers and sisters also wanting this same known-ness.

Are you ashamed to talk about your sexuality with family or friends? Have you ever confronted a family member about issues of sexuality or gender identity? Do you have a supportive family who knows your story, or do you not?

  • Thomas, I believe some months ago, I sent you a very detailed and surprisingly revelatory email about why I wanted to be part of this community. Why would I do that? I think it was because I sensed from having read your posts, and sensing the genuine affability of your letters that you would receive my letter well…which you did! I believe I could sit out on the porch, tea in hand, and talk to you about … anything. The surprising result would be that I would know that these words would be respected, heard with charity, and not outwardly dismissed as mere emotings. Like you, I have had an inordinately difficult time talking to people about that part of my life that is the darkest, the most riddled with moments of shame, and the least understood in my heart. I have also discovered that I am not really “in love” with men: I am in love with the power they possess. To me, muscularity represents discipline, power, and personal strength, elements I have not seen very often in my life. When I was near that power, and hugged it to my body, I began to sense that I could absorb it…and that attitude took on a very different kind of problem: magic. I wanted to possess what I did not have in a way that I most wanted. Recently, I have found that because of the time that I have been working out at a local gym, the more I have realized that I am losing my desire to possess this power because I am possessing the power I had craved outside of myself. I am learning to view these men as remarkable people, rather than sources of appeasement. I realize these are rather personal thoughts, but there you go. Your persona seems to inspire them. I am grateful for your presence in my world. Hooray for you!

      • That would be a splendid moment indeed! Every blessing upon you, and ongoing prayers. I carry a stone (ancient Church tradition) in my pocket to remember my brothers in prayer…carrying it now, and remembering you. Thank you for such love, acceptance, and dignity you provide. Glad to join you all on your journeys to The Celestial City.

  • My big brother is the only one in my scattered family who knows. He never mentions it, and I don’t have any way of knowing what he thinks about it now other than bringing it up myself. My take on his decades long silence on the topic (even when other men are my houseguests) is that he doesn’t want to talk about it, so I don’t. I can’t recall the topic of homosexuality coming up during the occasional visits with cousins. I don’t think any of them share your aunt’s views, but while I’d share my views in principle, I don’t think I’d out myself.
    As I read your post, I thought it would be a good idea to send your aunt that e-mail, but now I’m not sure. It would probably be effective in changing her opinions, but the decision to come out to someone is always very personal, with unique factors in each case. I completely understand why you did give your “testimony” in that moment.

    • We’ll see, I’m definitely pondering that email. Will let the YOBiverse know if I go that direction. Thanks for sharing your story, N. I feel a lot of that not family tension (or lack thereof) where the other side just doesn’t ever bring it up.

  • Hey Tom, thanks for the post! I just became aware of YOB about a month ago, and I’m thankful for the transparency and the mission you all are working towards. I really appreciate the recent emphasis on faith, too! Recently I was forced to share my story of ssa with people sooner than I wanted to. The heightened shame I once felt in sharing my struggles came rushing back to me in that moment. Even though I have a solid understanding of why I have ssa, how it affects me, and how to continue on in life without it interrupting my desire to live out the great commission – I definitely still feel some degree of shame when sharing this part of my heart. It’s hard. For me, I think I worry about how the person’s view of me may change once they find out. I also worry about it just being awkward. Perhaps thats a cultural thing. With your situation I’m sure it would’ve been different had she known your story. I’ve been in a room before when someone makes an ignorant comment about sexuality, and others who know my struggles are present. Its a weird moment.. making eye contact with those who know.. should we say something or not? It’s awkward for sure. I’m sorry you feel like a failure for that day. I don’t know you, and I don’t know your convictions, but I wouldn’t categorize that as a fail. Agreeing with her would’ve been a fail, but I wouldn’t say you’re obligated to give an in-depth answer to anyone in any circumstance. There is wisdom in assessing the situation. Hoping for you that you can get some peace whether you decide to reach out to her or not! Main thing, bro, (you know this but always good to hear) is Jesus died on that cross in your place, and he rose again to defeat sin, death, shame, guilt, etc. His victory is now our victory. His victory is now your victory. Praise God!

    • Amazing. Same name, just became aware of YOB a month ago, and also appreciate the blog’s emphasis on faith.
      Albeit, only difference is that I could never share my SSA story with anyone. I can’t. I literally mean no-one in this world knows of it. I admire everyone here in this community for being able to share their story with someone for accountability, let alone defend their story. Every time a conversation about LGBT arises among friends (many whom are Christian) ignorant of my SSA, I die a little inside.
      I feel SSA is the biggest cross a person could bear…

      • We have all felt that, Tim, and it is a very difficult place to be, but God is bigger than all of us, and His kindness/desire to help us is bigger than we yet know. Glad you are here!

    • Glad you found YOB, Tim. We’re glad to have you here. Thanks also for adding your own transparency to the mix. Grateful for your story in our midst. Indeed how I need reminding: His victory is now our victory. Praise God, struggle and defeat need not keep us down.

  • Hey Tom, I think that may have been a small fail, but it demonstrates why you are a good leader and why God is a great papa. You are not wallowing in a mistake but processing it and examining possible roots of it. You do this so you will be better prepared next time. And if you fail in a similar manner next time, you will be even better prepared to do what is best. And also, as a good leader you reveal your struggles and attempts to correct them so we can learn with you. And you can do all of that because you trust in God’s mercy. If you did make a mistake, I made the same mistake thousands of times over many decades. I remember sitting quietly and seething while a neighbor asserted during the week of the 9/11 attacks that our nation was harmed because of our love for homosexuality. I sat quietly, even though I am pretty sure God is more displeased by the indifference and gold-worship of the American church. But God is gracious with your mistakes and mine, and He beams over every small step in the right direction. This story is another good step, so He is beaming at you again, Tom. Oh, as for the questions: No, not so much anymore; yes; and YES! my wife and kids are incredibly supportive.

  • Everyone’s comments are so good. It’s one of the great things about YOB, the momentary absence of shame talking about ssa. It’s one of the appeals to me of being Side A that you can be comfortable being gay rather than view it as a sin. Instead, it’s one of the only experiences in my life feeling ashamed even when I haven’t done anything. The only time I find rest with ssa is in Christ.
    I wouldn’t be hard on yourself Tom. I’ll bet everyone of us have been in the situation of letting the opportunity pass to say or do more in the moment. I may be misreading it, but didn’t anyone else there give some pushback to the aunt? They probably saw you were uncomfortable.

    • I could tell at least one or two family members were uncomfortable. I think my one uncle’s “what do you think?” was an attempt to give me some control over the situation since I’m not naturally inclined to just pipe in on my own. Trying not to be so hard on myself and definitely dwelling more on this notion of emailing my aunt. If nothing else…a great follow-up blog?

      • Pray about moving ahead, if and how you should. Email works, but with face-to-face or phone you can gauge reactions and feelings better. Whatever you decide, if you do I hope you get love back from her. Maybe you’d be the first person (or Christian) she knows well dealing with it well. That’s true testimony, who you are in Christ. That would be a great follow up blog, her changing because of who you are.
        And I was wrong, ssa isn’t the only thing that I can feel ashamed about that I haven’t acted on. Still, in Christ means real rest.

  • Another interesting blog. My heart goes out to you for feeling shame. My heart goes out to you for feeling unprepared. I am quite sure that all of us in the human race have been caught at one time or another unprepared for some question (whether it was about our faith and an opportunity to witness) or about something like our sexuality. So, I would say that the shame you feel is unproductive. You have had an opportunity to prepare an answer for next time (if there is a next time). More than that, forgive yourself and move on.
    You asked these questions:
    Are you ashamed to talk about your sexuality with family or friends? Have you ever confronted a family member about issues of sexuality or gender identity? Do you have a supportive family who knows your story, or do you not?
    I am not ashamed to talk about my sexuality (SSA) with family and friends. I have told over 60 family and friends about my journey with SSA, including several pastors. There are people I have not told, not because of my shame, but because I think they would feel hurt if they know.
    I have never had the opportunity to confront a family member about issues or sexuality or gender identity, although I have discussed it with many family members.
    I have one relative that I would like to talk about sexuality with, because I believe that his views about LGBT are formed exclusively by the culture and exclude any Biblical perspective on sexuality. Being both a dedicated follower of Christ and a man with a SSA past, I would at least like to share my perspective with him.
    The family members that I have told about my SSA and sexual addiction have all been supportive of me. I am blessed in this.
    On another subject:
    I already commented on (Dean Samuels???) blog and his use of gay Christian as a label. I can’t say that I like it when YOBBERS use the term “gay Christian” because I think it is ambiguous. What do you mean by calling yourself a gay Christian? Without qualifiers (and you actually do have some in your blog), different readers can read different meanings into the label: Side A or Side B? Or something else entirely?
    I never identified as “gay” so I am certainly not a gay Christian. I realize that I am in a different generation, and my perspective on the use of gay as an “identity” is biased because of that. I cannot be ex-gay, because I was never gay in the first place. If I had to choose an identity to call myself, I would only choose Christian or follower of Christ. I see no reason to add some other adjective into the mix. Most people don’t run around saying I am an alcoholic Christian or I am an adulterous Christian or I am a greedy Christian or I am a fornicating Christian. You get the idea. Well, it is your choice. I think it can open doors into further discussion about sexuality with your relatives if you call yourself a gay Christian. Maybe that’s your plan.

    • I rarely use the gay Christian identifier, and I certainly don’t want to open that can of worms again, but it’s all about the delivery and the audience. Whatever the shortest path to Jesus is. Nonetheless, glad you have a supportive family Alan. Not all are so blessed.

    • “Most people don’t run around saying I am an alcoholic Christian or I am an adulterous Christian or I am a greedy Christian or I am a fornicating Christian. You get the idea.”
      The problem I have with this is that three of your four categories speak of sinful behavior, whereas being gay does not imply sinful conduct. So they are inapposite. As for alcoholic, nobody doubts that an alcoholic can be Christian, whereas there seem to be people who don’t realize that one can be both gay and Christian. The self-identification can help them learn.
      Identifying oneself as a gay Christian is a subset of coming out. Whether to do so and under what circumstance is a judgment call and a personal decision, IMO, but if one is going to come out, witnessing to one’s faith can clarify the matter by forestalling false assumptions.

      • Thanks for your reply, Naturgesetz! I agree with your comments about 3 of the 4 categories I created are sinful behaviors. My apologies for this.
        My problem is that the terms gay and Christian used together are ambiguous. What do you mean when you use these two words together? Some readers reading this blog will say that “gay” means you identify with a sinful lifestyle. Others won’t think so.
        I’m not here to judge or debate anything with anyone. The term gay is highly politicized today. Without clarifying what you mean, others have no idea whether you are simply recognizing your attraction to your own sex or whether you are practicing a (gay) homosexual lifestyle.
        Is practicing a homosexual lifestyle (in a committed relationship or in casual hook ups) a sin? I won’t answer that question for anyone or judge their answers to that question, but I recognize that many readers at YOB would say that having the attraction to your own sex is not sin, but acting on that attraction is sin.
        Since others will say acting on homosexual attraction is not sin, I still maintain that using the highly politicized term “gay” together with Christian, is problematic.
        Are you side A, side B or something else? Are you a chaste Christian man sexually attracted to your own sex? (Or) Do you mean that you were born gay and therefore God is OK if you act out your homosexual desires? And thus, gay sex cannot be sinful in God’s eyes.
        I don’t know. Each man must go to God and seek his own answers to these questions. My preference for myself is to simply put my identity in Christ. I’m a Christian. I need not add anything to that. I’m a sinner saved by grace.

  • Thanks for sharing…and simply put…I don’t feel like you let the YOB family down at all! You do a far, far, far better job than I could ever think of doing…if that is any encouragement to you. God knows your heart and is with you even this day…and tomorrow…the next day after that.
    I am overwhelmed at the care of my Heavenly father after going through Hurricane Florence…for 3 days the storm raged…no power…our neighborhood flooded. But. we are getting our feet back on the ground again!

  • Tom, your writing skill, honesty, and vulnerability are incredibly inspiring. I am so proud of you for writing this post, and being so open. I can’t imagine how difficult that was to be put on the spot like that (or how difficult it might still be). Thank you for doing God’s work. We don’t know one another personally, but you have impacted my life for good. For the better, and forever. You are someone who is a wonderful example of true discipleship. I enjoyed hearing you speak at the North Star Conference and hope you continue in all the good you do. Thank you for being the man that you are.
    Love,
    Kastle

  • Thanks for sharing Tom. Many parts of your experience and this story in particular resonate a lot with me. I also come from a family where my parents and other relatives make strongly opinionated yet poorly informed statements especially around controversial topics such as homosexuality.
    I am still a bit ashamed to talk about my sexuality with my family and friends, but the more shocking revelation I have had is that I’m more so ashamed to talk about my faith to them. I’m ashamed to talk about my faith with friends because I fear that the way in which I have lived my life and the experiences I’ve had over the past few years run counter to my faith and the values We hold and make me appear hypocritical. I experience similar yet more complex feelings when discussing both faith and sexuality with family. I have felt like a hyprocrite for living how I have instead of remaining focused on God’s plan, but also rather hurt as I felt that my family had no interest in discussing matters involving my sexuality without me initiating the discussion (which I never have except when coming out) and I felt I was unable to be truly authentic with them.
    I will say when confronting family and friends about issues of sexuality that I have learned how to respond more effectively. My main answer is this; being gay and having SSA attractions is not a choice, being a Christian is. Those same temptations and desires are still there and being a Christian does not stop a person from being gay, but it does provide them with another alternative and something that is a real choice. Either to continue living as we want or to take up our crosses in Christ and crucify our sins there. That is the real choice because if ultimately we feel called to Serve God and want to give him our all, it will be the most difficult, life-changing, and most rewarding decision a person will make for themselves.
    As always Tom, your vulnerability, transparency, and authenticity is truly a blessing. Keep up the great work. Much love brother.

  • I have experienced this tension before for sure. Several months ago, I actually confronted my mom about something she posted on social media. It was honestly one of those “Last straw” moments for me. But, for the most part, I avoid this conversation with my family. I know that they do not agree me in my understanding of human sexuality and gender, and I know they will refuse to change their minds (I can’t even get some of them to accept that dancing is not sinful). So, to maintain peace for now, I abstain from the conversations. That will change eventually, I am sure though.

  • I’m also pretty resistant to the idea of discussing my sexuality with family, especially extended family. Even though my official position is that I’m “out,” most of them probably don’t know because I haven’t talked about it with them. I did have one conversation with an aunt about my sexuality. She’d asked me if I’d found a girlfriend yet. We were alone, and we didn’t have anywhere to be, and I knew she was a follower of Jesus, which made me a little more comfortable, so I told her I wasn’t really that interested in girls. The rest flowed from there.
    She asked me if I had considered marrying a lesbian (she had read a Christian book where that happened) and I told her I hadn’t, but I didn’t think it was a good option for me. I could have been offended but I think she was just earnestly trying to be helpful. That was three or four years ago; we haven’t talked about it since.
    I feel that same resistance with anyone whose reaction I’m unsure of. On the conservative/Christian side of things I worry a little about having to explain myself yet again, or having my heart regarded with an unfair amount of suspicion. But most of my fear is on the liberal/secular side of things. I’ve actually had more bad experiences there, where people treat me as a pitiable victim of psychological manipulation. They think they’re regarding me compassionately, but it’s very patronizing. And with them, I don’t feel like I can show any sign of loneliness, weakness, or doubt, because it would just be confirmation.
    All that to say, there’s probably some shame mixed in there, but for me I think it’s mostly good old-fashioned fear and uncertainty.

    • That’s encouraging to have had such a conversation with your aunt. I agree, sounds like she was just trying to be helpful. I’ve had good interactions with another aunt and some other family members. Trying not to let this one fail get me down. I’m hopeful for more fruitful interactions to come.

  • Maybe you were given the right words. I can imagine your other family members wondering if you were going to launch in. I see so many ways of that conversation going poorly in comparison to well. Perhaps, your simple answer showed that you were just muddling through and not a dreaded “activist”. Maybe everyone besides your aunt grew to respect you a little more that day. I don’t see it as a failure at all.

  • Thomas Mark Zuniga

    When I don't wander away for weeks at a time, I live in Asheville, North Carolina – the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I'm YOB's cofounder and editor, and I also host our two podcasts. I've written a couple books, including a 2013 memoir in which I came out to my readers. Once upon another universe I anonymously blogged about my faith and sexuality under the Xanga username "twoBeckonings." I'm an INFJ, Enneagram 4w5, and my spirit animal is the buffalo. My favorite place in the world is the one where coffee and vulnerability meet.

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